Disclaimer: I do not own these characters! I receive absolutely no compensation for writing about these characters, other than the warm fuzzy feeling I get from nice reviews, and valuable practice, so that hopefully one day I will become a published author of fame to rival JKR's, and then people will rip off my characters! Muah ha ha! Hey, a gal can dream…
This fic was written for the Spring Forward Fic Exchange. The fic request I was given to fulfill is as follows:
of the fic you want: R/NC-17
One tone/mood you want your gift to include: angst with a Dramione ending
One element/theme/item you want your gift to include: Post-Hogwarts
One common cliché you don't your gift to include: Draco being in love with Hermione since third year when she slapped him
Summary: A mission-gone-wrong leaves Draco and Hermione wounded and trapped in a small cavern deep below the earth's surface, with only one exit that is being prowled by Death Eaters on the lookout for them. How will they get out of this? And will the extreme circumstances act as a catalyst, transforming their dislike for one another into a grudging respect and perhaps something more…?
"Granger, will you please just shut up?" Draco hissed through clenched teeth, shooting Hermione a quick, venomous sideways glare from those unsettlingly pale eyes of his- eyes that Hermione had still never quite learned to trust, let alone like.
"Merlin, you're going to get us both killed," he continued, in a seriously irked whisper. "Why in the hell was I saddled with you for this assignment, again?"
Hermione huffed a stray curl out of her line of vision, inwardly seething. She was so angry with her so-called partner at the moment that she had almost completely lost focus on the task at hand. Why had the two of them been paired up, anyway? Their intense dislike of one another was hardly a secret in the Army of the Phoenix- the entity which had resulted from the merge of the Order of the Phoenix and "Dumbledore's Army" several months after Hermione had graduated, with top honors, from Hogwarts.
That she, Harry and Ron were destined to be active in this new organization had been taken entirely for granted- Draco's participation, on the other hand, now that had come as a bit of a shock. It had been Snape, of course- his mentor and role model once his father had been imprisoned back in fifth year- who had talked him into switching his allegiance, and when Draco had made that decision, he had made it whole-heartedly, and had become, just like Snape before him, an extremely valuable asset to the side of Light… because, also like Snape before him, he maintained numerous contacts on the other side, who had no idea that he was no longer trustworthy. A regular little goldmine of information, Draco had become, with his natural Slytherin proclivity for covert operations and espionage.
However, he had taken after Snape in more ways than one. Just as the older man was perfectly capable of repeatedly risking life and limb for the sake of the Order- well, the Army now- while at the same time absolutely loathing the one person who represented the organization's only chance for success- Harry James Potter- so Draco, Snape's protégé in every respect, showed the same disinclination to ever warm to Harry. Or to Ron. Or to Hermione. Indeed, within the Army, the bad blood between Draco- who, though still certainly aloof in his bearing, treated most other members with a trace of cordiality, at least- and the golden trio was the stuff of legend. Others would stop what they were doing around headquarters when Draco encountered any member of the "Gryffindor dream team" in the hallway, in order to watch the wary, unpleasant interaction that was certain to follow; the pause, sudden electricity crackling in the air, nearly tangible- the cold, visual size-up on both parts- the exchange of surnames, spat from lips that were curled back with loathing- and the parting, finally, Draco's lip curled in disdain while the other- be it Harry or Ron or Hermione, shook their head and muttered venomously all the way down the hall.
No, there was no love lost here- not a trace of warmth, or of trust, on either side, even though when Draco had been admitted he had been required, like all new recruits, to state his purpose in joining and to take an oath of loyalty while under the influence of Veritaserum. Hermione had spent two entire weeks, following Draco's swearing-in ceremony, ransacking first the Army's library and then the large public one in Diagon Alley, searching for any evidence whatsoever that it was possible for a person to somehow conquer the effects of that potion. She had turned up nothing to confirm her suspicion, but the mere fact that she put so much effort into trying proved- (along with the fact that she could tend to become unhealthily obsessed with any book-related project, as Ron had pointed out)- just how deep the animosity between them went.
And then word had come in that the Death Eaters were developing a code of some sort for use in their written communiqués- a result of the Army's increased efficiency in intercepting enemy owls. The good news was that their sources reported the code was a work in progress- far from finished, and this seemed to be confirmed by the handful of notes the Army had managed to retrieve that were written in it; they were short, consisting of four or five words at the most, and utilized the same characters of this odd new alphabet over and over again.
These had been given to Hermione in the hope that she'd be able to at least partly decipher them- she had, after all, been the best student in runes and dead languages that Hogwarts had seen in well over a century- but she had proved unsuccessful; she simply didn't have enough material to work with. The same handful of symbols repeated over and over again, albeit in slightly different variations, was getting her nowhere. And so it had been that a meeting was called, and a decision was reached, that it was imperative to get Hermione more information on this developing Death Eater code. And by sheer coincidence, the latest intelligence, which was revealed at the same gathering, was that a small group of the Death Eater intellectual elite- no more than half-a-dozen people, tops- were meeting on a weekly basis to further develop the code… and the Army had managed to secure information on the date, time and location of the next meeting.
And so now here she was, trying to split her concentration between the proceedings going on below her, and Malfoy, the utter prat, beside her who was still staring at her murderously, and only because she'd gotten carried away a moment ago, listening through her Extendable Ear to the conversation of the Death Eaters, and had whispered enthusiastically, "that's it!" when something one of them said- (the only woman down there, Draco's very own Aunt Bellatrix, Hermione was almost positive)- had triggered in her mind a crucial, code-crunching connection. Well, she'd had a right to be excited, for Merlin's sake! Bellatrix had just given her the key to solving this thing when they got back to headquarters.
Not that Draco had any idea, of course; he was just cheesed off that she had made a teensy little sound of enthusiasm. Ruddy Malfoy. Daring to question her value on this mission when the only reason they were here at all was that-
"I'm the language expert, remember, Malfoy?" she hissed furiously. I'm the only one who serves a purpose here, because I'm the one who can break this infernal code! So one might argue that in reality I am the one who is saddled with you, and the only reason being that you're such a sneaky little-"
"Ferret?" Draco interrupted in a bored drawl. "Really, Granger, for such a self-proclaimed language guru, you have a rather repetitive little vocabulary there. Believe it or not, I've heard that one just a time or t-"
"Actually, I was going to say 'bastard'," Hermione interjected in a mock-sweet whisper, flashing him a big, fake smile in the gloom. "Sneaky little bastard. But now you mention it, I suppose 'ferret' would do in a pinch-"
Draco's eyes were glittering almost dangerously by now. "Sneaky little bastard, then, eh?" he spat back at her, hardly bothering to keep his own voice down any longer. "Well thanks for that, Granger- so now let's see, how on earth could Potter's precious princess benefit from having a 'sneaky little bastard' tagging along on her mission? Let's just try to get to the bottom of this one, shall we?"
Through the Extendable Ear, Hermione heard all conversation below stop abruptly. Tearing her attention from Draco, she peered down into the depths of the catacomb where Voldemort's intellectuals were grouped around a single fire, the light and warmth of which appeared to have been magically magnified- but not by much. Discretion was a consideration for the Death Eaters, after all. As it should have been for Draco and Hermione. Yet at the moment it was needed most, it seemed to be the very last thing on Draco's mind. His voice was rising steadily as- here was the kicker- he continued to rant on about his role in this assignment… to ensure that it was carried out with all due stealth! It would have been comical, had not their lives been on the line.
Some time he had picked to come unglued- Hermione had never worked one-on-one with him before, but she'd heard he was ordinarily a master at what he did; after all, he'd been taught espionage by the best- Severus Snape. Who was currently far a-field on an unrelated assignment, which was why Draco had been sent with her tonight. Personally, she would have preferred waiting for Snape to return so that he could have accompanied her- and that was saying something, for though she was twenty years old now, well into adulthood by wizarding standards, she had never warmed to her former potions professor either. He would have been better than Malfoy, though. Who ever would have guessed that the sneaky little bastard could be so touchy?
It was almost enough to make her regret what she'd said. Almost.
Merlin, the people below were looking around themselves, now, rising to their feet, reaching for their wands, unsettled.
More than one of the Death Eaters was turning to the sole woman, as if for guidance.
"Let's see," Draco continued, "could it possibly be that having a 'sneaky little bastard' along might be just what's needed-"
"-to get you in and out of here in one bloody piece, you daft little bitch!"
It was not something she had intended to do. Hermione was not an impulsive person by nature, nor a stupid one- but by the time her mind had finished forming the thought it would be really, really foolish to slap Malfoy right now, the deed was done- just as in third year at Hogwarts, he was staring at her in shocked outrage, his eyes huge, with an angry red splotch, distinctly noticeable even in light so dim as to be nearly nonexistent, spreading on his cheek.
And the sound of it-
To Hermione it sounded like a gunshot, so loud and sudden was it- Draco, who of course had no concept of guns, equated it to the sound of a bludger breaking a nose. (Preferably Potter's.) It reverberated through the vast underground space (the location the Death Eaters had chosen for their clandestine meeting put Hermione, fittingly enough, in mind of a movie set for an "Indiana Jones" picture)- echoing, seeming to Draco and Hermione to actually gather strength as it went, unmistakable for anything other than what it was; a human sound. There were shouts now from below.
Hermione strained to see what was going on- the Death Eaters had formed themselves into a tight defensive circle, their backs facing in toward each other, their wands drawn on the darkness that surrounded them. If there was one thing to be grateful for, it was that the acoustics of the cavern had caused so many echoes and distortions to the sound that it was impossible for the people below to pinpoint exactly where it had come from.
This, however, proved to be only a temporary setback for the Death Eaters. Bellatrix, who apparently was indeed the leader of this select little group, and with good reason too, was muttering a complex set of instructions to her wand. Hermione, fascinated, leaned forward a bit, hoping to get a clearer idea of what the other woman was up to- when Bellatrix finished her incantation, thrust the wand straight up in the air, and shouted "Point!"
Instantly the wand aimed itself directly at Hermione and Draco's hiding place; a small, high outcropping of rock sheltered by a low, crumbling stone wall that ran around its edge and was reached by a passage through the solid rock of the cavern wall, so small that in order to escape they would need to navigate it on their hands and knees until it joined a larger stone corridor a few yards away, this one leading either up to the surface or further down into the earth, to where the Death Eaters were at the moment. The ledge appeared to have been some sort of burial shelf at one time; it had been occupied by a skeleton when the two Army agents had arrived, hours before the Death Eaters had been expected, to set up their surveillance. Draco had "Scourgified" it away indifferently, causing Hermione to take him to task, with great indignation, for treating human remains like so much common rubbish. Draco had shrugged and said that he was sorry, if he'd known his actions would cause her such distress he would simply have kicked it over the edge and been done with it that way.
She had seen red, of course, but there had been at least one thing the two of them had agreed upon; the ledge had been the perfect spot for them to keep track of what was going on below. Now, however, due to its tiny escape passage, it had just become the perfect trap if they were to be seen.
And they were seen.
Hermione's eyes widened in horror as the wand, now honed unerringly in on her, hit her with a thin yet intense beam of light as bright as any Muggle searchlight. It would have hit her with something a lot worse a second later, had Draco, who had ducked behind the low wall for shelter, not yanked her roughly down beside him. A streak of poison-green light cut the air where her head had been and slammed into the rock wall above them with enough force to shower rubble down on them.
Ignoring her squeak of surprise, Draco had hunkered down and immediately begun rummaging through his various pockets, searching urgently for something, muttering darkly under his breath all the while. From below them came the sound of Bellatrix shouting orders. More jets of colored light shot overhead, missing them by inches. Draco found what it seemed he'd been looking for- an item too small for Hermione to identify in the dim light, but she gathered by the sound of relief he made, and the way in which he placed it carefully aside, that it was what he'd been after. The next second, though, he was back to digging through his things- apparently there was more that he needed.
The situation was getting exponentially more urgent with each passing second. The thing that made their circumstances so dire was that once the Death Eaters had all arrived some time ago, they had done something neither Draco nor Hermione had thought to expect; set up anti-apparition wards all over the place. There would be no escaping by magical means; they needed to figure another way out. Something, Hermione thought with mounting panic, needed to be done now.
"Shut it, Granger," Draco snarled, not bothering to stop in his search or even glance in her direction.
"I beg your-" Hermione began, but once again Draco cut her off.
"Granger, unless you're about to start apologizing profusely for the enormous fuck-up you've just caused, I do not want to hear another goddamn word out of your mouth. Not one. Is that perfectly clear?"
He raised his eyes to hers for a moment, finally, and she could still see the blotch on his face- only now it had taken on a recognizable shape; her handprint, in reverse, glaring back at her in lurid red against his otherwise too-pale skin. She opened her mouth, intending an angry retort, but words eluded her, confronted as she was by the silent, accusatory presence of that slap mark. She closed it again.
"Good," Draco said emphatically, and she had no idea whether he was referring to her decision to remain silent, or to the success, at long last, of his search, for just then he pulled out and held aloft the fruit of all his labor- a small glass vial that Hermione recognized instantly, and which sent a shiver of cold fear ripping straight through the core of her. Seeing this vial now was not a good thing, as it contained something that Draco had sworn vehemently he would never use, not unless either capture or death- or, more likely, the one followed closely by the other- were absolutely imminent. In which case he was under direct orders to drink the contents of this small bottle, which would serve a dual purpose once ingested.
First, it would act as an unusually long-lived version of regular Polyjuice Potion, changing Draco's appearance not for the standard one hour, but rather for twelve. Into someone whom, unlike Draco himself, the Death Eaters would be completely unsurprised at discovering on an Army mission with Hermione Granger- and, incidentally, the person Draco hated probably second most in all the world- Ron Weasley (who was no more thrilled at the prospect of Draco taking on his appearance- no matter how dire the circumstances- than Draco himself). Next, it would render him completely and utterly mute for those same twelve hours- unable even to whisper- and therefore, obviously, a great deal more difficult to interrogate. The reasoning behind this was that it would severely damage Snape's credibility with Voldemort, and put him in no small danger, if the Death Eaters were somehow to capture, or even to kill Draco, thereby discovering his betrayal of their cause. Losing Draco would be a heavy blow to the Army- but losing him and having Snape exposed would be a catastrophe; something that the side of Light might simply not recover from.
Knowing all this, Hermione watched in horror as Draco unstoppered the bottle with his teeth. Had she really bollixed things up that badly? Was she going to die tonight, or worse yet, somehow survive only to have to explain to Severus Snape that her inability to control her impulses under stress had led to Draco's demise? That would be a fate worse than death indeed.
Draco's silver eyes cut sideways to her. "For Merlin's sake, keep your head low, Granger," he hissed. "Lower, damnit!" and dragged her down further until she was scrunched beside him, lying more than sitting, wedged between the outcropping's low stone wall and the cold, damp side of the cavern. "Now listen carefully. As I drink this vile looking shit right here, I'm going to need you to take this-" he shoved the other item he'd pulled out and laid aside, the one that had been too small for her to make out earlier, into her hand- "and restore it to its full size. This is our ticket out of here, understand?"
Hermione glanced down now, bringing her hand close to her face, squinting in the gloom. A very tiny broomstick, no larger than a matchstick, lay cupped in her palm. She raised her eyes to Draco's and found him watching her closely, assessing her reaction. It was no secret in the Army that Hermione had little love for broomstick flight. Was completely terrified of it, in point of fact.
"Isn't there-" she swallowed hard, and her eyes went to the small opening in the rock just centimeters away from where they crouched. "There isn't any other way? What about-"
Draco followed her gaze, and gave a short bark of bitter, mirthless laughter. "What about what, Granger? Crawling out of here on our hands and knees, single-file, with our backs to our attackers? Right. Well see, the thing about that is, I've never had much of a desire to find out what it's like taking an Unforgivable straight up my arse. How about you?" When her only answer was a glare, he nodded curtly. "So the broomstick it is, then. Just hold on tight. You'll be fine if you don't think too much. Speaking of which-" he had begun to raise the vial to his lips, but paused a moment, regarding her. "You cracked it, didn't you? The code? You've got it figured out?"
It wasn't a question, not really. And there was a queer sort of resignation in his voice that she found puzzling. "Yes, I've got it figured," she confirmed, "the simplicity is brilliant. Really, all they've done is-"
Draco silenced her with a raised hand. "We're out of time," he said, as another curse zinged overhead.
Hermione felt a quick resurgence of annoyance. She was proud of her accomplishment, damn it, in spite of everything that had followed, and- "if you didn't want to know about it, Malfoy, then why in Merlin's name did you ask?"
Draco's response explained the sudden, odd air of resignation about him. "Because, Granger," he said, sounding almost tired now, "that means I have to defend you with my bloody life." Those eyes like mercury caught hers one final time. She had no way of knowing then, the next time she would see them their natural color, how inconceivably different the circumstances would be.
Then he raised the vial to his lips once more, tipped it briefly toward her, a mocking little salute- cheers, the gesture seemed to say- and downed its contents in a single swallow, his face contorting with disgust as he did so. The last thing Hermione heard him say before his voice was silenced by the potion was, "ugh, poverty tastes revolting!"